Good vs. Bad Screen Time

What’s The Difference?


In the United States, children are consuming more technology than ever before. Their days are often spent in front of a television, computer screen or iPad. The age at which children begin using technology is also getting younger and younger. As children spend more time with technology and less with books, it’s important to know the potential side effects that could arise. Does technology help or hinder a child’s development? It’s a topic that has been heavily debated as the development of child-friendly applications expands. While advocates for child-friendly technology highlight potential learning opportunities, those in opposition warn of delayed development.


The concept of technology and children needn’t be an all or nothing approach. There are different types of screen time that affect children in different ways. Experts have identified key differences between “passive” and “active” screen time for children. However, with the wide variety of technology aimed at children, it can be difficult for a parent to determine which type of screen time they are providing. Luckily, there is a basic rule of thumb that parents can follow; passive screen time is bad, while active screen time is good.


The Bad: Passive Screen Time


Pediatricians typically advise against passive screen time for children less than two years of age. Passive screen time is when a child is inactively consuming some form of technology. Watching television, movies, or videos on a screen are all forms of passive screen time. Children under the age of two that engage in passive screen time could be at risk for delayed language development and smaller vocabularies.


Passive screen time for children older than two might also be limited or even restricted, as it has been shown to increase the likelihood of insomnia, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Although screen time can be utilized as an easy and cost effective form of childcare, it is not in a child’s best interest to rely on these methods. When a child spends large amounts of time in front of a screen simply receiving information, they miss out on time that could be spent learning through play or interactive activities. Therefore, it might be best if passive screen time is replaced with active screen time or free play.


The Good: Active Screen Time


In contrast to passive screen time, active screen time can be significantly beneficial for children. Active screen time cognitively and physically engages the child using it. They are prompted to respond, create images, or physically move. These types of interactive educational applications can benefit children in a variety of ways. Not only do they make learning fun, but they can also aid in the development of hand-eye coordination and language skills.


Any type of technology that requires an effort on behalf of the child can lead to learning. Educational apps that allow a child to practice letters, numbers, and spelling are considered active and beneficial to a child’s development.  Surprisingly, active screen time can also include video games and video-call applications. Some video games require a child to use analytical or spatial-relation skills, while others promote physical activity. Video-call applications can also be beneficial to children as it may improve vocabulary and promote social skills. Children that actively consume technology evade the negative effects that are associated with passive consumption.


Balance Is Key


Moderation is key when it comes to screen time and children. Consider limiting passive screen time, as it has been shown to delay some aspects of a child’s development. Although active screen time can be beneficial, it should not be left unrestricted. Technology should be a tool parents use to further a child’s development, but should not be the only educational tool in a home. Physical playtime and in-person interactions can never be entirely substituted by technology. It’s important to have a few interactive apps on hand for a child, while also promoting learning through hands-on experiences.

Kali Muir is an ambitious freelance writer with a BA in Communications. She was born in Canada but has since lived in Norway, Denmark, and England. Her work experience is as diverse as her past addresses, including roles in technical communication, corporate communication, marketing, and article writing. She has experience working in varied business sectors: Oil & Gas, Engineering & Technology, Clothing & Equipment Retail, and Creative Writing. Follow Kali’s professional and personal journey at, or connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Photo credit: MikaelWiman via / CC BY-NC-ND

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